Katharine Hepburn wrote in her autobiography, "L. B. Mayer was a shrewd man with enormous understanding of an artist. He was not stupid, not crude. He was a very sensible fellow, and extremely honest. In all my dealings with Mayer, I can say that he was the most honest person I ever dealt with in my life.".
Sidney Skolsky wrote that the joke on the MGM lot was that "L.B." Mayer stood for "Lionel Barrymore" Mayer because he was the "best actor" on the lot in things he did to persuade people, including melodramatically fainting and crying.
A self-made man who rose from his apprenticeship at his father's scrap metal business in Canada to become the highest paid corporate executive in the U.S., Mayer was not above changing the particulars of his biography. Born in Imperial Russia in Vilna (in what is now Lithuania), Mayer later claimed his birthplace was Minsk (in what is now Belarus), or a village located between the two cities. He changed the year of his birth from 1882 to 1885 (the latter being the date on his tomb), and after being naturalized as an American citizen, he decided that he would celebrate his birthday on the Fourth of July (the exact date of his birth was uncertain, though he knew he had been born in the summer). He added a "B." as his middle initial to give his name more "dignity", and said that it stood for "Burt" or "Burton."
Active in Republican Party politics, serving as the vice chairman of the Republican Party of California from 1931 to 1932 and as its state chairman between 1932 and 1933.
Appears as a character in the musical play, "In Hell With Harlow".
Brother of J.G. Mayer.
Brother of Ida Mayer Cummings.
During his entire career at MGM, Mayer only answered to two men: Marcus Loew- who died on Sept 25, 1927 - and his replacement at MGM parent, Loew's Inc., 'Nicholas Schenck'. It was an uncomfortable relationship for both men. Schenck inherently understood Mayer's value as a the head of MGM but resented his price. The two men would fight bitterly over the years over business matters, with Schenck repeatedly planting spies (including E.J. Mannix who soon became a Mayer loyalist) to monitor Mayer's business dealings.
Father of Irene Mayer Selznick.
Father-in-law of producer David O. Selznick
He was a master manipulator, and it was generally acknowledged that of all the great actors on the lot - the Barrymores, Spencer Tracy, Lon Chaney, Greta Garbo - Mayer was the best. He was not above-- or below-- crying, begging, threatening, charming or cussing (often within the same conversation) anyone out on the lot if it meant getting his way. When Robert Taylor tried to hit him up for a raise, Mayer advised the young man to work hard, respect his elders, and in due time he'd get everything he deserved. He hugged Taylor, cried a little and walked him to the door. Asked if he got his raise, the now tearful Taylor is said to have answered, "No, but I found a father." Taylor, remained a good company man--- and one of the most underpaid top actors on the lot, enjoyed a 25-year career with the studio.
In his will, excluded daughter Edith (Mrs. William Goetz) and her husband, former MGM executive William Goetz.
Inducted into the Haverhill [Massachusetts] Citizens Hall of Fame.
Last words (spoken to Howard Strickling on Oct. 28, 1957): "Nothing matters! Don't let them worry you. Nothing matters!" L.B. was hallucinating under a morphine drip.
Lived at 332 St. Cloud Road in Bel Air (Mayer's original home has been torn down).
Mayer, according to Peter Hays' 1991 book "When the Lion Roars," idealized his mother. He was her favorite son, and she was the main influence on his life. She died in 1913, and Mayer kept a picture of her over his bed the rest of his life. With his mother an icon in his eyes, Mayer revered the concept of motherhood. When director Erich von Stroheim expressed the opinion to Mayer that all women were whores, Mayer asked him if he thought of his own mother that way, and then punched him in the face. Mayer told screenwriter Frances Marion, at their first meeting, that she should never write anything that would embarrass Mayer's own wife and two daughters. He told her, "I worship good women, honorable men and saintly mothers."
One of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)
Portrayed by Harold Gould in The Silent Lovers (1980) (TV), Howard Da Silva in Mommie Dearest (1981), Al Waxman in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001) (TV), Stanley DeSantis in The Aviator (2004), etc.
Salary as head of MGM in 1937, $1,300,000.
The father of two daughters, Mayer originally thought of production chief Irving Thalberg as a son, but Thalberg's ambitions and his view of himself as the man behind the success of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually brought them into conflict. After Thalberg's first heart-attack forced the young executive to take a long vacation, Mayer introduced a producer system he likened to a college of cardinals to replace Thalberg as central producer. When Thalberg returned to MGM, he became just an ordinary producer, albeit one who had first choice on projects and MGM resources, including its stars, due to his closeness to 'Nicholas Schenck', the president of MGM corporate parent Loews's Inc. Schenck, who was the true power and ultimate arbiter at the studio, usually backed up Thalberg. Some Hollywood observers believe that Mayer was relieved by Thalberg's untimely death, though he professed a great deal of grief publicly and likely was saddened by his former mentor's demise as Thalberg had been instrumental in building MGM into the greatest studio in Hollywood and the world.